Boot camp is a blend of classroom and hands on training. Each week is broken down as follows:
- Week 1: Processing Days
- Week 2: Confidence Building
- Week 3: Hands-On Training
- Week 4: Live Fire
- Week 5: Career
- Week 6: Fire Safety
- Week 7: Battle Stations
- Week 8: Graduation
The late arrival is intentional. With people coming from all over the country it’s designed to bring everyone into RTC Great Lakes at the same time. P-Days are some of the worst days in boot camp as it is a lot of waiting and since it begins near midnight there little sleep.
Among the first things you do is change all your clothes and change into what are called “smurfs”, blue sweat pants and sweat shirts emblazoned with Navy symbols. These are what you wear during P-Days until your uniforms, which you’re measured for, are ready. This is also your first exposure to the “no privacy” and team first mentality. All of the changing you do (including your underwear) is done in front of everyone you arrived with, people who you don’t know at all.
During the first night you are issued most of your uniform items that are not tailored such as covers (hats), under shirts, underwear, socks, shoes/boots etc. All of your reading material is given as well, the Blue Jacket’s Manual and training guides.
Loads of paperwork is done, a lot of waiting. It’s all a blur at this point. I think I was lucky enough to sleep for an hour on a desk since I was processed ahead of a lot people due to my last name.
The rest of the week consists of more processing: medical, paperwork, dental, paperwork, along with preparing all of your assigned gear, better known as stamping your name on everything.
You’re given more routine medical exams and shots during these days than you’ve probably had since you were a baby. The Navy doesn’t care whether you’ve been inoculated against every disease in the world, they’re going to give you every inoculation in the book. It’s an assembly line for shots, one in the left arm, another in the right, another in the left.
Yes, they do stick a needle in your ass cheek. Yes it is weird feeling.
Week two marks the beginning of what most people imagine boot camp to be like: a lot of physical training, marching around, over tired and being screamed at until you’re deaf.
The reason it’s called confidence week is because it is designed to break down ~100 individuals and make a team out of them. To start to train them together, to reshape people who think of themselves first into people who think of the men and women beside them first.
Basic military drill is instructed. Roles are meted out among the recruits for various positions, people placed in charge of various tasks within the compartment and division. This week memorizing everything Navy gets into full swing: ranks, people, General Orders and more.
Routines that are expected during the rest of boot camp are taught. How to make your bed, how to prepare your uniforms, how to fold your uniforms, how to position the items inside your rack.
They teach you how to do everything.
The making your bed part was done over and over again until everyone in the division could take a stripped bed and make it perfectly within a minute. We stripped and made our beds so many times I have scars from my knuckles scraping into the metal frame of the rack.
This is week is all about all hands on deck, literally. The division is instructed in basic seamanship, which means deck work. On a mock up a ship recruits are taught how to moor the ship, memorizing all the roles, where things have to go and again, it’s all about the team work.
Flag signalling is also instructed this week and the division is trained in man overboard procedures. The week is capped off with a simulation of unmooring the ship, then “sailing” and then simulating approaching the pier to moor the ship again. You can count on man over board being called at some point during the exercise.
I don’t remember much else about this week except that I think this is the week I had my wisdom teeth pulled. That meant I spent two days in my rack doing nothing but sleeping.
Mine came out without a fuss, though I have heard horror stories of broken pieces of teeth left in. Also of recruits waking up to people all but crouched on their chest yanking on a stubborn tooth.
The two days spent sleeping would later come to haunt me because my RDCs (Recruit Division Commanders) wouldn’t let me stand for an inspection because I was assigned to be sick in quarters. This meant I didn’t fail the inspection, but I couldn’t excel either. I was given a sat.
You could call this gun week if you wanted. All the training was emphasizing the proper handle and use of a live weapon. This is the week that will get you into trouble if you think you know what you’re doing. The Navy doesn’t care if you’ve been shooting guns since you were three, you will shoot it their way, when they say.
You do NOT mess around during live fire week.
They first teach people how to properly fire a weapon with laser pistols weighted to feel like a real weapon. If you don’t pass this don’t even think they’ll consider you for live fire. They also teach the proper treatment and care for the weapon and proper procedures for turning over a weapon.
Live fire consists a course with a 9mm pistol, executing what they say and how they say it. It involves fire a certain number of shots when they say, reloading when they say, switching dominant grip when they say. Depending on how you do you’re given the Pistol Marksmanship, Pistol Sharpshooter or Pistol Expert. You also fire a shotgun, mostly to see what it feels like.
When I say you don’t mess around during live fire I mean it. This is the only time I saw someone get assaulted by an RDC. To work the live fire range you have to be a certain kind of crazy: you take people who have never shot a gun in their lives and you’re counting on them not to lose their heads and do something stupid.
Some kid decided he was going to turn out of the booth with the shotgun in his hands. He froze when everyone screamed at him and was promptly tackled by an RDC then verbally berated as he was escorted from the room. I never saw that kid again, and I assume he was ASMOed.
(ASMO is short for Assignment Memorandum, which means delayed in training for either a training deficiency or to heal from an injury or to brush up in areas where they are weak which is common with non-native English speakers.)
A side note regarding the shotgun kid as well. The gun was empty as he had fired the only round loaded in it. It’s the principle of the matter though. The gun was still a live weapon.
Technically I was not supposed to attend live fire because I had pink eye that week. Since the actual live fire course is on a Friday it had for the most part cleared up and my RDCs looked the other way for me. It helps that I was one of the few people in my division who wasn’t an idiot.
This is the week they talk about your future. There are financial classes among other training. A lot more emphasis is placed on drill inspections, uniform inspections, compartment inspections.
It should just be called inspection week.
Until now most inspections were prepared for individually. This week the three major inspections coincide in one week, leading to preparing for all of them together. The focus is teamwork because to pass everyone has to do it together, especially the compartment and drill inspections.
Fire fighting. This week is all about training in the fire building. Learning how to use fire hoses, CBAs, proper dress, and working as a team to fight fires.
Recruits are also trained on proper egress in the case of smoke.
My firefighting and egress chamber experience was… nothing. I didn’t end up doing it because the day we were scheduled for the live exercise there was a power issue in the building. We didn’t have any fire and we didn’t have smoke. We just pretended as best we could.
Also this week is the wonderful gas chamber experience. The division is given gas masks and lined up in rows inside the chamber. As your row reaches the front of the room everyone in the row removes their mask together, throwing it into a trash can at the front of the room.
In each corner of the room they are burning tear gas. Down the line the RDCs go as the recruits recite their name and SSN, without choking or screwing it up. Only once everyone has said their part can the row exit the room. Some people have trouble spitting it out, to everyone’s dismay.
One fun fact about tear gas is that water activates it again. When you go to boot camp in the middle of winter they make you wear scarves over your mouth, with a ski mask on top and a wool watch cap on top of that. It gets hot when you double-time march across the entire base because it’s below freezing. The tear gas on your skin reactivates on the march.
It isn’t pleasant.
This is the part of boot camp I’m not supposed talk to most people about. What I can say is this: all the training from boot camp leads up to this moment. This is a live exercise that takes everything and puts it all together.
Battle Stations starts at 10:00 PM and runs through the night until 9:30 AM on board what is called the USS Trayer (BST21). It is a mock up of a Arleigh-Burke Destroyer that serves as the platform for Battle Stations. All the team building and training comes to together as the recruits work together in small teams all night to complete the exercise.
Battle Stations mimics events that have happened in the past as a way of training future sailors. The USS Tripoli hitting an Iraqi mine during the Gulf War and the USS Cole bombing in the port of Yemen are only a few of the real life combat situations that were used to inspire the simulator.
The only part I ever tell anyone about is the fact that I had to evacuate Battle Stations. Among all the alarms going off inside the ship a real set of alarms for the building went off. Everyone had to evacuate. For me this meant leaving the building into three feet of snow while we waited for the all clear. It also screwed our egress exercise, which we had to repeat once we went back inside.
At the end of Battle Stations there is what is called the capping ceremony. While most people consider Pass-In-Review to be graduation from Navy boot camp, and it is, Sailors see the capping ceremony as their true graduation from boot camp. Each recruit exchanges their RECRUIT ball cap for the NAVY ball cap, marking them as US Navy sailors for the first time.
Pass-In-Review, the formal ceremony in front of family and friends and the chain of command for RTC Great Lakes. This is where all the drilling comes in, as every division performs their drill exercises as part of the ceremony.
This is where all the pictures come from and after this ceremony most sailors are given liberty to leave base with their families, or on their own and go out into town.
Most of them end up at the Gurnee Mills Mall.
I say most sailors because I was what is called “Grad and Go”. That meant after Pass-In-Review was over we packed our things and were on a bus to the airport within a few hours. We didn’t get liberty, we were shunted off quick as they could get rid of us.
My parent’s drove out to my graduation as well, despite my being grad and go. After the ceremony my parent’s bought some T-shirts and sweatshirts with my division’s logo on it.
It was far too cold to be standing around taking pictures. You can see the scar on my hand.
They also brought me a suit case of civilian clothes and a lot of my electronics (cell phone, video games etc). While they couldn’t give it to me at RTC they met me at the airport in Chicago and I was home free from there. Not really, I was on my way to Pensacola, FL.
Next up: a collection of “boot camp stories” from my time at RTC Great Lakes.